Where Did All the Great Projects Go?

Upon reminiscing with past NSCA leaders last week during the member reception in Las Vegas, we got talking about the typical jobs of today vs. yesteryear.  One unanimous observation was that today there seems to be something wrong on every job.  Or maybe we have better tools to uncover what we used to sweep under the rug.  Here are some of the examples we discussed.

  • Lower margins and fierce competition drive down that safety net we once had that allowed us to simply take care of any oversights, forgotten materials, extra labor.  We now have to fight for every change order and extra billing opportunity.  It makes the project more complicated.  We used to deal with it and move on focusing on improved relations with the customer and their satisfaction.
  • We used to have the mindset of – “okay we forget this item, but our contingencies allowance will easily cover that or we will make that up on the next job.”  That luxury is now gone by the wayside.  Especially on projects where itemized material lists are required, it’s always difficult to get properly reimbursed for forgotten items, regardless of who wrote the specification.
  • Contractor qualifications and mandatory pre-bid meetings once gave us a comfort level that the two or three other bidders had the same level of training, basic overhead structure and profit requirements that we did.  Today, the seven or eight other bidders may have a very different business model, be bundling services or perhaps even looking at the project as a way to ‘buy into” the industry.
  • Contracts were once simple.  We never thought of legal battles, payment fights, retainage held for months and months, etc.  Today, it just seems as if you can expect something unpleasant to occur on each job related to contract administration.
  • Project management has dramatically changed.  It’s nearly impossible today to assign a lead technician to be the manager of a mid to large project.  With lean margins and tight labor allocations, the job has to be managed with such precision to be profitable.  Wasted trips, unplanned overtime, exceeding freight allowances, forgotten permits, fees, insurance, will take the profits out of a job quickly.
  • Communications should be far better than ever with all the tools we now have.  Yet, it still seems that we stumble when we don’t carefully document the details of the conversations and various approvals.  There are still uncertain phrases and conditional disclaimers being thrown around that create more risk than really necessary.  Getting the project managers to be effective communicators is now a must.

Our conclusion is that we seldom have that great project where everything went according to plan.  Has it always been like that? CW

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